Hercules (1997)

Here goes another one of my full-movie commentaries. Today, it’s Disney’s Hercules, which was perhaps my favorite movie in elementary school and is certainly responsible for the interest in mythologies which weirded the heck out of my neighbors when I was a seven-year-old. Consider, for example, this paraphrasing of my Halloween experience in 1998:

Me: Trick or treat. (Note the dearth of exclamation point. I have always been just as unfun as I am now.)

Adult with candy: What are you? A gladiator/knight/soldier?

Me: I’m Perseus, who slayed Medusa and rescued Andromeda from a sea monster.

Adult with candy: Okay then.

At any rate, I haven’t watched Hercules in, gosh, probably ten-plus years. I expect to still know this movie at least as well as I know Mean Girls. If you have streaming Netflix or a working VHS, follow the bouncing ball and reminisce with me.

1:32:44– Do they still open Disney movies like this? I’ve written thousands upon thousands of words about the Disney Renaissance and how Millennials miss the point when they complain about Disney’s descent…and I still get all warm and runny inside watching that castle appear. Carrying on.

1:31:40– “We’re your dreamgirls…”

1:31:39– Hey, they’re a Greek chorus!

1:31:27– Once I started learning stuff about Greek mythology, I was more than a little disappointed by how much stuff Hercules got “wrong.” We’re literally a minute into the movie and Disney has not only changed the function/number of Muses but the representation of the Titans…give ’em another thirty seconds, and they change Zeus’ ascent to power as well (or at least leave out all the fun details about child-eating). Obviously, this is a totally different text from the Greek myths, and that’s part of what makes this movie so darn fun.

What’s much more interesting, however, is that from 1989-1999, the generally accepted years of the Disney Renaissance, the folks at Disney put out ten movies. One of them, The Rescuers Down Under, came close to being an original story (the plot was new, the characters old). Another, The Lion King, had a very original set of characters but, as every high schooler knows, is a transparent adaptation of Hamlet. The rest are adaptations of famous stories which are, to the general public, perhaps more notable for their buzzword content than the content of the stories themselves. The result is that Disney made themselves the definitive versions of fairy tales (The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast), legends and mythology (AladdinHerculesMulan), novels (The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Tarzan), and “history” (Pocahontas). As much as anything else, Disney’s ability to make their versions of these classic stories definitive (or close to it) in the late twentieth century is part of the mystique of the Disney Renaissance. Hercules would probably make Edith Hamilton gnash her teeth (“You made Philoctetes a satyr?!”) but what it sacrifices in faithfulness it makes up for in audacity. Hercules takes characters that most folks already know the basic characteristics of, and from there they create a story which is entertaining, exciting, and well-loved. In a way, Disney Renaissance movies do the exact opposite of what J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek films do.

1:29:49– Betcha Poseidon doesn’t care for dry martinis, hyuk hyuk hyuk, I’ll just stand over there.

1:28:23– Yesterday, I went onto 4chan for the first time because I wanted to shatter my innocence and generally darken my days, and I imagine that this first interaction with Pegasus is what the G-rated bronies would like to have happen with, say, Rarity.

1:28:22– The R-rated bronies, though, holy crap.

1:28:01– Most of what Zeus (voice, unpredictably, by Rip Torn) says about baby Hercules is roughly what I’ve been saying about my family’s new kitten. “He’s so cute,” “he’s so tiny,” etc.

1:27:50– Hades, voiced very predictably by James Woods. In most universes, Hades/James Woods is close to the perfect Disney villain. However, in our universe, there’s Scar/Jeremy Irons.

1:26:03– This scene on the Styx is always going to bring this to mind for me. (No, that’s not “Come Sail Away,” you’re safe. It’s actually my second reference to a musical in…less than ten minutes of movie. Winter is coming.)

1:24:48– That’s 5 billion dead folks in the Underworld…plus one, now. Not bad for ancient Greece.

1:24:33– Indoor plumbing is, in fact, huge. One of the great (or at least widely used) party questions is, “If you could live in any era, when would you live?” For your own sake, never give an answer which predates indoor plumbing. I mean, can you even imagine? How would you bury goldfish?

1:22:30– You leave him bereft and friendless after the end of Prohibition! No, no, that’s not it…you blow up his car and send him, in the non-diagetic sequences, to Hell! No, no, that’s not it either…

1:22:04– Dat snoring.

1:20:10– Amphitryon is a (totally purposeful) caricature of Hal Holbrook. It’s always amusing to see animators draw their characters essentially as the people voicing them.

1:18:19– There’s a joke here about teenage drivers, but durnit, I just can’t seem to put my finger on it…

1:18:05– Donkey launching ought to be an Olympic sport.

1:17:35– Newman doesn’t want your help, Herc.

1:17:18– Dude in the gray helmet thing bears a strong resemblance to James Franco.

1:16:03– “And that, kids, was how I caused hundreds of thousands of drachmas in property damage while prepubescent. Just keep watching, tho, because I’m about to cause millions more!”

1:15:22– The way people walk/run in this movie makes me think that at this time, Earth had gravity somewhere between its present strength and the strength it has on the Moon.

1:15:05– He really is. His feet are stupid big.

1:14:31– Left-handed, too? Yeah, definitely a freak.

1:14:06– This song was probably supposed to be the “Colors of the Wind” for this movie. Like most of the rest of 1997, “Go the Distance” was probably as much a victim to “My Heart Will Go On” as the rest of the English-speaking world.

1:12:13– This way to the Temple of Zeus, located on a rock formation suspiciously like one we all know.

1:11:16– And that’s what my kitten does when I try to hold her.

1:10:48– “Hey, numbers-dysfunctional kid! Throw me that discus. I’m a god now. Do you even lift, bro?”

1:10:01– “Yeah man, I started working out with Philoctetes, the trainer of heroes. Do you even lift, bro?”

1:08:50– From the files of “You can’t always get what you want”: When I was a small child, I was, naturally, a soprano. I could hit this note all day. However, having the lungs of a small child, I could not hold this note for more than about ten seconds. Now that I’m older, I am no longer a soprano and can’t  hit this note comfortably…but if I could, I’d be able to hold it for the duration. Anyway, little things to cover before sudden scene change.

1:08:36– Look, aligning stars.

1:08:15– All right, definitely the first time I got the Planet of the Apes reference in this movie.

1:08:03– Prepubescent Herc is significantly less prepubescent than we had previously assumed.

1:07:54– It’s a glory hole! Or at least as close as we’re going to get in a Disney movie. I think. What the Danny DeVito joke wants, the Danny DeVito joke gets.

1:07:35– So there’s an Easter cantata out there which, in the script/music, calls for a narrator to say that Jesus and his disciples took the Seder. Unfortunately, they stumbled upon one of my absolute favorite homophones and spelled it “satyr.” The thought of Jesus and his disciples taking a satyr anywhere is ludicrously funny.

1:06:59– If Rome fell because of their faded morals (lulz), then Greece fell because only Hercules could count.

1:05:27– “Seriously, I can, I just sang a whole song about it!”

1:02:10– Before you can serve fugu in a Japanese restaurant, not only do you need to undergo rigorous training, you have to make it and eat it yourself. That’s basically how I feel about this obstacle course, with poor mutilated Betty Boop at the end.

1:01:10– “What’s in Thebes?”

Incest. Also complete misery. More incest and misery than you can wrap your hick brain around, kid.”

1:00:23– Susan Egan voices Meg in this movie. Before this, she was best-known for originating Belle in the Broadway Beauty and the Beast. The musical does have original songs, though I’m sure those weren’t what got people to the theater. At any rate, Egan’s “Home” is a gorgeous piece which showcases her voice more than the songs in Hercules do.

58:16– “Hey kids, that’s how my horse drowned the first dude I fought. Pretty cool, huh?”

57:10– Oh, so the guys at Disney do know. They just draw these women with the proportions of comic book superheroines anyway. Oh well.

56:20– A real pain in the…kneecap?

55:50– Other things that the folks at Disney know: bunnies are not rodents, but lagomorphs. Spectacular. Speaking of rodents looking for theme parks: this guy.

54:32– “Remember, like, a few years ago, every other boy was named ‘Jason’ and the girls were all named ‘Brittany’?”

54:19– Between Hades and Phil, this movie unleashes about fifty times more Yiddish than any other Disney movie.

53:24– Weirdly enough, the Midnight Cowboy reference was one I got way before the Planet of the Apes one.

52:32– So Thebes, between its flooding, fires, and earthquakes, has a lot more in common with, I dunno, San Francisco than it does New York. Funny.

50:57– Though judging by the reaction Hercules is getting, Thebes might be more like Philadelphia…in this scenario, Hercules is in fact Domonic Brown.

50:51– “How am I supposed to prove myself a hero if no one will give me the chance?” Yep, that’s Dom Brown talking.

50:02– There’s minor genius in the term “fur wedgie.”

48:20– “Phil? Whaddaya call that thing?”

“A nascent attempt at CGI…”

46:14– Say what you want about the CGI, though, that’s a really cool shot they take.

45:12– “HUNH?”

44:43– Man, if we could light cigars with our thumbs, every thirteen-year-old with an attitude would be doing it.

43:42– Here’s my ranking of Disney Renaissance songs/soundtracks:
1) The Little Mermaid

2) Beauty and the Beast

3) The Hunchback of Notre Dame

4) Aladdin

5) The Lion King

6) Mulan

7) Tarzan

8) Hercules

9) Pocahontas

10) The Rescuers Down Under

That list, incidentally, is not too far off from my Top Ten Disney Soundtracks list, which probably includes The Jungle Book and The Aristocats at the expense of Pocahontas and The Rescuers Down Under. The Hercules soundtrack is one of the lesser ones from the Disney Renaissance…but it’d be the best of any other Disney decade.

42:55– The inevitable “Grecian urn/earn” pun. Love it.

40:58– “I’ve got twenty-four hours to get rid of this bozo while the entire scheme I’ve been setting up for eighteen years goes up in smoke, and you are wearing his merchandise?!”

39:43– Meg made the same mistakes a lot of girls in the ’80s did…namely, somehow having smaller hair than another girl.

38:13– Hercules is, unsurprisingly, Michael Jordan. By these standards, Michael Jordan is not a true hero yet himself, as he hasn’t suited up for Charlotte himself yet.

37:31– I’ve always been tickled that Hercules wears Scar in this scene.

36:09– If you ever go somewhere old, look up at the ceiling, because it’s always more interesting than the rest of the room.

35:02– Looks like your day’s been pretty cathartic, Herc.

34:10– Yeah, baby, rupture those discs.

33:51– Looks almost as good as the noseless Sphinx.

33:01– Pile on some more eyeliner there, emo Meg.

30:46– There are three visible statues in this shot…all of them feature a male creature of some sort, something anthropomorphic but clearly not human, holding or grappling with some human maiden. Um, Disney? What’s up there, guys?

29:01– “Read my lips, Hades! No new taxes!” This is such a ’90s movie.

27:45– Meanwhile, Saturn is seriously lagging behind.

26:40– So the lesson today, kids, is that if you can’t actually beat someone by your own merits, send a bombshell and hope for the best.

25:47– In all fairness, Phil has not really uttered any of the magic words, like “Hades” or “head on a platter.”

24:33– This particular sequence here makes me wonder why, exactly, Hades doesn’t just straight up kill Hercules…clearly he seems capable of it.

23:50– No, Hercules, never trust anyone who goes for the left-handed handshake immediately. Unless that person is J. Walter Weatherman.

22:22– Is that a sewer the Titans have been hiding in all this time? Man, I’d be cranky myself.

21:22– “ZEUS!”

19:27– This Cyclops has more than a little Jabba the Hutt in him.

17:54– As this movie is from the 1990s, it is inevitable that this Jabba the Hutt-talkin’ Cyclops would have to play hackysack.

16:37– This has to be the only Disney movie where the villain gets beaten because he lawyers himself out of winning, right?

16:25– Meg is so skinny (how skinny is she?) that when she gets crushed by a falling column, she doesn’t get any thinner.

16:14– And she has the purple eyes of a Targaryen to boot, so that’s amusing.

13:36– This sequence, which cuts back and forth between the Fates preparing to cut the thread of Meg’s life and Hercules’/Pegasus’ mad dash back to Thebes, is a really good example of the film/TV line of criticism which asks, “What are the stakes of x?” There’s drama being built, certainly…but what exactly does that drama get us? What is Hercules going to be able to do to save Meg from dying? He’s Hercules, not Aesculapius. So the result of this particular scene is not the building of tension so much as the building of “Huh?”

11:11– I mean, here’s a really good example of “What are the stakes of x?” Why they burned an identical sequence two minutes earlier is beyond me.

9:55– The Titan’s prison, the underworld…it’s all a little bit latrine-y. The best part is, though, that the Underworld is in the Northern Hemisphere. How do we know that? The underworld flushes clockwise.

9:25– If I was dating someone whose voice echoed like that, I would almost certainly be forced to break up with her.

8:07– Anyone else think that Olympus looks kind of like the orange version of where Timon and Pumbaa live?

7:44– Better late than never, at least as far as this movie is considered: Hercules is a golden god.

6:04– Well, that was a fun movie to watch again. That’s roughly as I remembered…the first hour or so of that movie is a lot of fun, but the final half hour manages to feel rushed and slow at the same time. Still was nice to hang out with you again, Herc.

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